Holders Banbrdge Academy are safely through to the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Cup final after Katie McKee proved to be captain fantastic in a 2-0 semi-final win over Sullivan Upper at Stormont on Wednesday, writes John Flack.
Bann will meet Rainey Endowed in the decider at the same venue on Wednesday, March 7 after the Magherafelt side defeated Friends´ by the same scoreline in the second semi.
It was a tighter affair than the first and it was only late in the game that Rainey scored the insurance goal to make the final once again.
They will be hoping to make it third time lucky as they had lost the showpiece on two previous occasions in 1977 and 2014.
However, with McKee, who scored the opener on Wednesday, in such tremendous form, Banbridge may well have to accept the unwanted favourites´ tag, going into next month´s final.
Academy coach Neil Madeley, who was in charge of the side that lost to Sullivan in the final three years ago when McKee was named player-of-the-match, was delighted with the win.
The winners of the final will go on to represent Ulster in the all-Ireland series and it was Bann who did the double last year when they added the Kate Russell Cup to the local trophy they had won for the first time.
However, Madeley is looking no further ahead than the Rainey game after steering McKee and her team to yesterday´s win.
“It was a tight game as semi-finals normally are and we expected Sullivan to defend and then try and hit us on the counter,” he said.
“They also have a good corner and we were keen to keep them to a minimum. Thankfully we scored at key stages in the game and then we had the experience to see it out.
“Semis are all about results and not necessarily about the level of performance. Regarding the final, Rainey will be a really tough game. They put out Ballyclare in the previous round.
“We have had some great games against them over the past few seasons and I would expect this to be no different. It should be an entertaining game with two sides who like to play hockey.”
McKee, the hat-trick heroine of last year´s final, showed great stick work to slam in the opener after 13 minutes.
With 25 minutes left, Nadia Benallal made it 2-0 to seal the win when she netted with a clinical finish after drifting past her marker.
In the second semi-final, Lauren Mulholland gave Rainey the lead midway through the first-half and it took a fine double save from Friends´keeper Cara McEwen to prevent a second goal near the break.
Andrea Hegarty made the game safe with a few minutes left to secure Rainey a place in the decider for the second time in four years.